Mandatory refund bill likely to be watered down in House

A bill that would have required New Hampshire retailers to give a refund for returned items looks like it will morph into a return policy disclosure bill, if Tuesday’s House Commerce Committee hearing is any indication.Sponsor Michele Peckham, R-North Hampton, even offered the compromise before she finished her testimony.The bill, she said, was inspired by her losing $150 on a dress purchased for a funeral. Peckham said she purchased two dresses, thinking she could return the one she didn’t want, but when she tried to return it, the Seacoast boutique where she bought it was out of business.Thus House Bill 1445 was born. The original bill, already toned down after discussions with New Hampshire Retail Merchants Association lobbyist Curtis Barry, would have required merchants to issue a cash refund or a credit on the credit card used for the purchase, provided that the merchandise was returned in the same condition as purchased.But Barry still testified against the modified bill, saying that it still leaves too many questions.First, “return fraud is the fastest-growing retail crime,” he said, including counterfeit receipts. Indeed, the association is working on another about receipt fraud. Second, HB 1445 doesn’t address returns of computer merchandise that could easily be copied or merchandise whose packaging is in a shambles.Finally, some stores have a more liberal policy and might narrow it in response to this legislation, he said.But Peckham was ready with an “alternative” amendment that would only require store owners “conspicuously display in writing” their policy for cash refunds. Without the display, the store would have to issue a refund.This, Barry said, he could support “conceptually” but would have to examine the details. Other states have imposed a similar requirement, with different penalties, said Barry. That’s one reason many national chains have such displays.But House Commerce Committee Chair John Hunt worried that such a requirement would place an unfair burden on small businesses that don’t currently have such policies displayed.But, said Peckham, it’s the smaller businesses that are more of a problem.”This is a consumer protection bill,” she said. “Not a merchant protection bill.”In the end, her bill wouldn’t have helped Peckham. If a store goes bankrupt, she acknowledged, customers would have to wait in line along with all the other unsecured creditors. — BOB SANDERS/NEW HAMPSHIRE BUSINESS REVIEW

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